Caxangá Suspension Bridge, Recife

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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The Caxangá suspension bridge over the Capibaribe River was the first of its kind to be constructed in Brazil, and possibly in South America.
The project was urgent and necessary to facilitate the transportation and exportation of produce, especially sugar, to the Port of Recife, the most important in Northeast Brazil, as well as improve communication between the Pernambuco’s coast and the Northern Forest zone and Semi-arid region.
Previously, the route was the Pau D’Alho Road, from which ran various paths to sugarcane factories and settlements.
The road was cut by the Capibaribe at a specific point in Caxangá where the relationship between the ground and the riverbed was very uneven, forming an escarpment, which explained why a wooden bridge hadn’t been built at the location, as was common at the time. Very tall pillars would have been necessary, and there were no Brazilian technicians with enough experience to build them with safety.
The project was commissioned to French engineer  Louis Léger Vauthier in June 1842, when he was Chief engineer of Public Works of the Pernambuco Province, during the administration of Francisco do Rego Barros, the Count of Boa Vista, and approved two months later.
 Vauthier decided on the construction of a suspension bridge, despite being a more expensive option than wooden pillars, because, according to his justification, “with the necessary care it will last at least one hundred years” as opposed to the other option, “in which ten years is the average of its duration”.
Not taken into account was the fact that for wooden structures, the building techniques and how to maintain them were well-known and widespread in Pernambuco, while those of the suspension bridge with metal cables was totally unknown.
Work began at the end of 1842, but only concluded in 1845, after various problems with the workers, the quality of materials used, and the lack of funds.
The budget ran out before the project was finished, so complementary funds had to be authorised. It was initially expected to cost 36:762$000 contos de réis (36,762,000 million-reals), but reached a total of 54:115$069 (54,115,069 million-reals), as Vauthier himself informed when presenting the costs to the Count of Boa Vista, Provincial President.
The bridge had a span of approximately 60 metres, a width of 5.50m “which is sufficient to establish on the two sides passage for people on foot and in the middle a path of 20 palms where two cars can pass easily.” It was composed of two arches on the base, in whose foundations wood taken from other bridges was used, with the bridge’s abutments made in brick and finished with calcium-based cement.

In 1869, 24 years after it was finished, the Caxangá suspension bridge was devastated and destroyed by a flooding of the Capibaribe River.
In its place, a new bridge was built in 1871, completely made of iron and at a cost of 100:000$000 contos de réis (100,000,000 million-reals).
Recife, 22 October 2004.
(Updated on 8 September 2009).

Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.


COSTA, Francisco Augusto Pereira da. Anais pernambucanos. 2.ed. Recife: Fundarpe. Diretoria de Assuntos Culturais, 1983. v.9, p.509. (Coleção pernambucana, 2a. fase).

SOUTO MAIOR, Paulo Martin. A ponte suspensa de Caxangá. Clio Série História do Nordeste,Recife, n.19, p.195-206, 2001.


Fonte: GASPAR, Lúcia. Caxangá Suspension Bridge, Recife. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.



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